By Jonathan Ofir
The faux ‘Labour anti-semitism problem’ has been a central feature in the fight of the conservative, pro-Israel establishment, against Jeremy Corbyn’s progressive (and pro-Palestinian) agenda, since he was elected to lead Labour in 2015. It culminated in an attack by the UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis this week, on the pages of The Times. The Zionist rabbi, who learned his Torah at one of the Israeli Jewish settler-colonies in the West Bank, has now claimed that “the overwhelming majority of British Jews are gripped by anxiety”.
The rabbi cannot distinguish between Zionism and Judaism. “One can no more separate [Zionism] from Judaism than separate the City of London from Great Britain”, he asserted in 2016 – just as he apparently thinks that the illegal settlement of Alon Shvut, where his yeshiva of Har Etzion is based, cannot be separated from Israel.
The “Labour anti-Semitic problem” has been virtually non-existent, but then was made out to be a huge problem after Corbyn came to lead Labour. Not that it didn’t exist in the Labour fringes: 0.06% of the members were accused of anti-Semitism in cases which were deemed to merit a disciplinary hearing. But even that figure is lesser than on the right. In 2017, Al Jazeera aired a documentary called “The Lobby”, uncovering how secret Israeli operatives in the Israeli Embassy intervene in British politics, plotting to “take down” politicians critical of Israel, working with organizations in Labour to counter Jeremy Corbyn and maintain a strong Israel-loyalism.
This is the real “anxiety” that these people are gripped by. It’s not about anti-Semitism, it’s a fear that Israel may be taken to task for its violations. Indeed, Labour affirmed on its platform that it will halt weapon sales to Israel for its violations:
We will immediately suspend the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen and to Israel for arms used in violation of the human rights of Palestinian civilians, and conduct a root-and-branch reform of our arms exports regime so ministers can never again turn a blind eye to British-made weapons being used to target innocent civilians.
That’s the real fear. Zionists fear such sanctions. Thus Rabbi Mirvis felt he was compelled to act, as a kind of religious duty–because he can’t separate Zionism from Judaism. He nonetheless appeared somewhat aware of the problem: “Convention dictates that the Chief Rabbi stays well away from party politics – and rightly so”, he wrote. But this was an exception, because “the very soul of our nation is at stake”.
Mirvis cannot grasp that as an ultra-nationalist, he is in no position to save that soul. Any more than he is able to separate his Jewish soul from his Zionist one.
The hypocrite Mirvis turned the tables. The witchhunt against Corbyn became a case of Jewish victimhood:
The Jewish community has endured the deep discomfort of being at the centre of national political attention for nearly four years. We have been treated by many as an irritant, as opposed to a minority community with genuine concerns. Some politicians have shown courage but too many have sat silent. We have learned the hard way that speaking out means that we will be demonised by faceless social media trolls and accused of being partisan or acting in bad faith by those who still think of this as an orchestrated political smear.
An orchestrated political smear it was, and still is, and it is only the more appalling that the orchestrators of it, such as Mirvis, are also presenting themselves as the victims.
And there’s more to this farce. Just after Mirvis published his piece on Tuesday, the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin visited him and was filled with pride over the Rabbi’s political intervention:
Meeting @ChiefRabbi Ephraim Mirvis this morning, I offered my support for his inspiring work against rising #anti-Semitism and #racism. His clear voice and leadership, particularly in the last few days, fills us all with pride.
The Israeli President is also supposed to be an apolitical figure – but here he is, a leader from a distant nation, congratulating a religious leader in a foreign country for his political intervention on behalf of Israel in that country. This is a multiple political intervention, and all under the supposed ‘apolitical’ concern for anti-Semitism.
And if it’s a chief rabbi saying it, it’s gotta be serious. Thus the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby chimed in, saying that the rabbi’s intervention should “alert us to the deep sense of insecurity and fear felt by many British Jews”. If the rabbi (and the Archbishop) say so, it can’t be wrong, even if it’s beginning to sound like a really bad joke. If it only was just funny. And so this great religious orgy became an invitation to other ultra-nationalist bigots, such as Hindu Council official Anil Bhanot, who said that Labour was not only anti-Semitic, but “almost fascist” – because you know, if you criticize India’s nationalist crackdown on Kashmir, something’s wrong with you. India and Israel are real close buddies, the Indian Consul-general in US just called for applying an “Israeli model” in Kashmir, complete with colonialist settlements.
So there’s a great flocking together of Zionists and their allies, under the holy mission of tackling Jeremy Corbyn. As Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz recently, it’s been “the contract on Corbyn”:
The Jewish establishment in Britain and the Israeli propaganda machine have taken out a contract on the leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. The contract was taken out a long time ago, and it was clear that the closer Corbyn came to being elected prime minister, the harsher the conflict would get.
While decent journalists like Levy point out that Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite and never was, Zionists, even of the supposedly ‘liberal’ type like Forward Opinion Editor Batya Ungar-Sargon, shamelessly ride the wave of incitement against Corbyn and call him an anti-Semite outright.
Some of us have been pointing out how disastrous this political trend is for Judaism: to be so closely affiliated with an ultra-nationalist, settler-colonialist movement, Zionism, that the religion and the movement become indistinguishable, and leading rabbis push this conflation. Jeremy Corbyn is actually trying to bring the British “nation” forward to a place of decency with respect to international law and human rights. But those of the Zionist persuasion work against that progress.
We can only hope that the allegiance to Zionism amongst Jews does not create more anti-Semitism. Judaism should be known for other things than violence, bigotry, hypocrisy and ultra-nationalism. But Ephraim Mirvis is making it hard for us to persuade others that this is the case.